New Zealand vs British & Irish Lions: 1st Test preview

After weeks of Lions warm-ups, narrow losses, some some and mostly consistent creative dreck it’s nearly time for the big one. The Lions and All Blacks teams has been named and here, using a special new-fangled “table” to compare and contrast the key factors between the sides you’ll get the full lowdown. Also, a handy verdict at the end to tell you who to put your money on.  Or not.  You should know by now that our predictions are about as reliable a Ben Te’o pass longer than 1 metre.

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All Blacks

British &
Irish Lions

Back Three

Ben Smith,
Israel Dagg
Rieko Ioane

Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly

A full back that looks like an accountant but plays like a balletic precision
missile; a young blues winger with so much pace he looks like he’s running in bullet time and Israel Dagg – a lanky thing playing out of position is the only “huh?” moment here.

 

The selection of Dagg suggests the Blacks are preparing for a peppering from the air. Even so, it’s a formidable unit; Ioane has already shown on this tour what he can do to a Lions defence and Ben Smith is just generally obscene in his quality.

 

The greatest selectorial surprise is here for the Lions. Given Gatland’s history people were putting their houses plus contents (including family and pets) on North & Halfpenny
starting. Instead we have Williams at 15 to unleash his bandy legged, council estate strength, the classy Watson and the rapid Daly. Lions fans are taking heart from this and it suggests that Gatland wants to get more impact into both the kick chase and the kick return.

 

But, for all the promise of this unit, it falls short of the All Blacks offering.

Midfield

Sonny Bill, Ryan Crotty

Ben Te’o, Jonathan Davies

A sporting polymath with an offloading game so filthy it should be sold in adult shops at inside centre and the quietly classy Crotty outside him.

 

Can they break the Lions’ tackle line forward press that so nullified the Maori and Crusaders? Sonny Bill’s unrivalled hands-through-the-tackle skills suggest so and Crotty the Conrad Smith replicant will run some lovely lines and play that back three in.

 

The boom-boom, surprise package of the tour at 12 and a Welshman who timed his return to form so he could be a bit less shit that all the other diabolical efforts at 13 on this tour.

 

When you put it like that this is not great news for the Lions. It’s hard to see how this midfield creates enough with the ball, but perhaps all it needs to do is create enough disruption without the ball. But it’s unlikely to be enough.

Halfbacks

Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett

Connor
Murray, Owen Farrell

Two of the most outstanding natural rugby talents on the planet. An established partnership and in Barrett a superhuman presence in a small, pointy body. But Ireland showed if you get at them they can be unsettled and this is the best hope for the Lions. That and Barrett’s sometimes questionable place kicking.

 

Two classy, physical operators with outstanding kicking games in their lockers and in Farrell one of the best place-kickers on the globe.

 

Pure talent wise they are not a match for the NZ pair (who is?), but in presence and disruptive shithousery they are ahead. Trouble is the Lions need at least three tries to win and shithousery can only get you so far.

 

Front Row

Joe Moody,
Codie Taylor,

Owen Franks

Mako Vunipola, Jamie
George, Tagdh Furlong

A solid offering from the All Blacks who miss the incomparable Dane Coles.

Plenty of experience still but of all the units in the team, this is the weakest.


They also lose a point for fielding someone called “Codie”.

The smashing, stepping, passing powerhouse Mako, the disproportionately upper limbed dynamo George and the indefatigable Furlong make up a truly formidable three.


Should have the upper hand at scrum time and in the loose. If they can get enough platform to allow the Lions to stretch something of a lead on the hour mark it could be enough*

 

*it won’t

 

Locks

Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock

George Kruis, Alun-Wyn Jones

The most imposing pair of tall men in the sporting arena since the West Indies stopped producing fast bowlers, these two have ruled the boilerhouse world for some time. However, for all their intimidating proficiency in many areas there have been some lineout issues and in this match they will come up against two of the best in that area with a hooker
called Codie throwing in.

 

Kruis is the man who does everything well and Jones is the man who is starting his seventh consecutive Lions test.

 

There are some question marks over Alun-Wyn’s form but he brings enough class and experience to justify selection. Kruis is everywhere and intelligently calls lineouts, a strength on tour so far, and also nicks a few.

Back Row

Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane, Kieran Read (c)

Peter O’Mahoney (c), Sean O’Brien, Taulupe
Faletau

After all the teasing about fitness the first choice NZ back row is here. Kaino is harder than a coffin nail, Cane is a brilliantly old school abrasive yet classy
breakaway and Read is like a T-rex that feeds exclusively on wagyu beef cattle that have been fed with rocket fuel milk mix.

 

The battle for the ball and dominance here could be key to everything.

O’Mahoney wasn’t even a certainty to tour and now he’s captain ahead of the actual tour captain. O’Brien has been consistently powerful and effective all tour and Faletau is like Carl Lewis, Mervyn Davies and The Mountain from Game of Thrones spliced into one body.

 

O’Mahoney has a great knack of getting under the skin of opponents and O’Brien will look to bully Cane to the periphery of the game while Read and Faletau have a special competition all of their own that ordinary humans cannot fathom.

 

Bench

A bench of two halves, episode 1.

 

A capable but not particularly terrifying front five bench sits alongside the
likes of Ardie SaveaPerenara and Lienert-Brown. Fancy that the Lions will need to be out of sight before those three are unleashed.

A bench of two halves, episode 2.

 

Unlike the All Black bench, the front five replacements are full of impact and finishing potential, particularly Sinckler and Itoje. Warburton is ultimately a defensive replacement and while Webb and sexton bring some impact there is nothing that Halfpenny
will do unless a last minute penalty needs slotting. Which perhaps gives away a large part of the gameplan

 

Verdict

All Blacks are stronger in every area save the front row and perhaps some other parts of the pack and certainly the front five bench.

 

Likely to be a competitive match on the scoreboard for 40-60 minutes, but even during this period expect Lions to be putting in lots of covering defensive before the simply better footballers in the NZ line-up take over. It
remains difficult to see where Lions tries will come from beyond their being a significant improvement in precision and creativity from everything else the team has done so far. If they find this it could be different story with a similar conclusion but with a more exciting climax.

About Lee

Owner, editor, not a fan of Haskell.